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Joseph Smith
Cover of Joseph Smith
Joseph Smith
Rough Stone Rolling: A Cultural Biography of Mormonism's Founder
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Founder of the largest indigenous Christian church in American history, Joseph Smith published the 584-page Book of Mormon when he was twenty-three and went on to organize a church, found cities, and attract thousands of followers before his violent death at age thirty-eight. Richard Bushman, an esteemed cultural historian and a practicing Mormon, moves beyond the popular stereotype of Smith as a colorful fraud to explore his personality, his relationships with others, and how he received revelations. An arresting narrative of the birth of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling also brilliantly evaluates the prophet's bold contributions to Christian theology and his cultural place in the modern world.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Founder of the largest indigenous Christian church in American history, Joseph Smith published the 584-page Book of Mormon when he was twenty-three and went on to organize a church, found cities, and attract thousands of followers before his violent death at age thirty-eight. Richard Bushman, an esteemed cultural historian and a practicing Mormon, moves beyond the popular stereotype of Smith as a colorful fraud to explore his personality, his relationships with others, and how he received revelations. An arresting narrative of the birth of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling also brilliantly evaluates the prophet's bold contributions to Christian theology and his cultural place in the modern world.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Excerpts-
  • From the book THE JOSEPH SMITH FAMILY

    to 1816

    My Last request & charge is, that you will Live together in an undivided bond of Love; you are maney of you, and if you Join together as one man, you need not want aney thing; what counsil, what comfort, what money, what friends may you not help your Selves unto, if you will, all as one contribute your aids.

    asael smith, “A few words of advice” (1799)

    Lucy Mack Smith bade farewell to her sons Joseph and Hyrum a few days after their deaths in June 1844. Joseph’s secretary, Willard Richards, and their brother Samuel had brought the bodies back from Carthage to Nauvoo, and after the corpses were washed and dressed in burial clothes, the Smith family was admitted to the room. “I had for a long time braced every nerve,” their mother wrote,

    roused every energy of my soul, and called upon God to strengthen me; but when I entered the room, and saw my murdered sons extended both at once before my eyes, and heard the sobs and groans of my family, and the cries of “Father! Husband! Brothers!” from the lips of their wives, children, brother, and sisters, it was too much, I sank back, crying to the Lord, in the agony of my soul, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken this family!”

    Six months later, Lucy began a narrative of the early life of Joseph Smith. She was sixty-nine, afflicted with disease and saddened by “the cruelty of an ungodly and hard hearted world.” Within a month she had lost three sons: Joseph and Hyrum to vigilante bullets and Samuel to a fever contracted while escaping the mob. Of her seven sons, only the unstable William survived. Her husband, Joseph Sr., had died four years earlier, and she lived with her daughter, another Lucy, and later with Joseph’s widow, Emma, who was carrying her husband’s unborn son.

    In this troubled and uncertain moment, the question of the Prophet’s successor remained unsettled. Lucy’s son William was soon to be among the contenders. The “Gentile” countryside expected the Mormon kingdom to crumble and the Saints to disperse. When they proved inconveniently adamant, the citizens forced the Mormons to leave. But trouble did not slow Lucy’s dictation to Martha and Howard Coray through the winter of 1844–45. One crisply told story after another covered the pages, making her narrative the central source for the early life of Joseph Smith.

    Lucy Smith reacted to the sorrows and distresses of her life with indignation, not regret. Recollecting the murder of her sons, she wrote that “my blood curdles in my veins.” At the close of the book, she consigned the malicious and indifferent government officials who had darkened her family’s lives—the governors Lilburn W. Boggs, Thomas Carlin, and Thomas Ford, and President Martin Van Buren—to the judgment of God. She was a proud, high-strung woman, belligerent, capable of anger, grief, and sublime confidence in the final triumph of the innocent. She concluded her account with a lofty judgment: “And I shall leave the world to judge, as seemeth them good, concerning what I have written. But this much I will say, that the testimony which I have given is true, and will stand for ever.”

    Lucy did not mention the name of Joseph Smith, Jr., until page 56 of her record. As she told the story, no signs or portents accompanied the birth of her most famous son. She said quite simply that “in the meantime we had a son, whom we called Joseph, after the...
About the Author-
  • Richard L. Bushman was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1931. He took his B.A., M.A., and PhD. degrees at Harvard University. He has taught at Brigham Young University, Boston University, University of Delaware, and Columbia University, where he is currently Gouverneur Morris Professor of History, Emeritus. His previous books are From Puritan to Yankee: Character and Social Order in Connecticut, 1690-1765 (1967), Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (1984), King and People in Provincial Massachusetts (1985), and The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, and Cities (1992).

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from July 25, 2005
    How should a historian depict a man's life when that man, and his religion, remain a mystery to so many 200 years after his birth? Bushman, an emeritus professor at Columbia University and author of Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism
    , greatly expands on that previous work, filling in many details of the founding prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and carrying the story through to the end of Smith's life. Many continue to view Smith as an enigmatic and controversial figure. Bushman locates him in his historical and cultural context, fleshing out the many nuances of 19th-century American life that produced such a fertile ground for emerging religions. The author, a practicing Mormon, is aware that his book stands in the intersection of faith and scholarship, but does not avoid the problematic aspects of Smith's life and work, such as his practice of polygamy, his early attempts at treasure-seeking and his later political aspirations. In the end, Smith emerges as a genuine American phenomenon, a man driven by inspiration but not unaffected by his cultural context. This is a remarkable book, wonderfully readable and supported by exhaustive research. For anyone interested in the Mormon experience, it will be required reading for years to come.

  • Library Journal

    July 15, 2005
    In this erudite cultural biography of Mormonism's founder, Bushman ("Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism"; Gouverner Morris Professor of history, emeritus, Columbia Univ.) establishes Smith's place within American society, discussing both the mark he left and the ways in which he was influenced by his times. Remnants of magical culture stayed with Smith to the end, Bushman asserts, and his life was divided between the ordinary and the strange. Bushman's use of original sources, such as letters and journals, plus his access to collected papers from Mormon church historians, provide an insightful glimpse into Smith's life and his eclectic family environment. The account is reasonably critical and respectably analytical, and while quotes are short, more than 150 pages of references and notes allow readers to research them in greater context. Both Mormon believers and critics will find enough material here for continued discussion. For example, was Smith's personal motive for his revelations to satisfy his family's religious needs? Or is the most interesting thing about Smith the fact that people actually believed him? Recommended for both public and academic libraries. -Leroy Hommerding, Fort Myers Beach P.L. Dist., FL

    Copyright 2005 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from September 1, 2005
    Peter Burnett, California's first governor, never converted to Mormonism, but he came away from his encounter with the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith convinced that he had met "much more than an ordinary man" teaching "strange and striking" doctrines. Both the extraordinary man and his highly distinctive doctrines receive illuminating attention in this landmark biography, published to mark the bicentennial of the American prophet's birth. A distinguished Columbia historian, Bushman stresses the boy seer's thoroughly ordinary origins--born to a hard-pressed New England farm family and denied all but the rudiments of a formal education--to emphasize the marvel of the religious revolution he brought about. Beginning with the publication of a new volume of scripture--the Book of Mormon--recounting the resurrected Christ's ministry in ancient America, that revolution eventually produced a dynamic church run by a complex lay ministry and committed to spreading its message worldwide. Though himself a practicing Latter-day Saint (Mormon), Bushman steers clear of hagiography by permitting readers to hear the voices not only of the prophet's loyal followers but also of various skeptics and adversaries. Readers see in particular detail the views of those who rose against Smith during the turbulent final years of his life, when the practice of plural marriage helped stoke a firestorm of religious conflict. Though that storm ended with the prophet's death at the hands of an angry mob, Bushman gives the slain revelator credit for the remarkable durability of the church he left behind. A deft portrait of a deeply controversial figure.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2005, American Library Association.)

  • The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

    "Remarkable. . . . A tale that's as colorful, suspenseful and unlikely as any in American history...Bushman earns a place for his biography on the very short shelf reserved for books on Mormonism with appeal to initiates and outsiders, too."--The New York Times Book Review"A fascinating definitive biography. . . . Stirs deeper questions about American religious convictions and how they shape lives and culture." --The Christian Science Monitor"An exhaustively researched and beautifully written biography of Mormonism's enigmatic founder."--Christianity Today"Fascinating. . . .Bushman captures all the harrowing events of Smith's short life, rife with converts and cabals, while meticulously dissecting the revelations that continue to haunt the Smith story." --The Providence Journal"Well-researched and lucidly written. . . . An excellent source for learning about the Mormon faith."

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